November 18 2011 11:41AM
The Calgary Flames are almost two months into the season and this campaign has far too many similarities to the team that started last year in a mediocre fashion. The problem is, last year the Flames finished with a decent record thanks to a scorching two month span after the turn of the calendar. Expecting that to happen this time around would be setting yourself up for disappointment; so, that said, it's time for Calgary to get themselves back on track as they host the Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in a week tonight at the 'Dome (7 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
As this season continues to linger along in an unimpressive fashion, you can only hope the Flames move closer to accelerating their future plans. The summer of 2012 is a huge time for the team as is the coming February trade deadline, but if Calgary proves not to be competitive on a regular basis, some of the moves might just have to be moved up to start the retooling process sooner rather than later. At this point, all I want to see is some consistency in the efforts for the Flames, so we'll see what happens this evening.
Calgary has been without Rene Bourque at practice the last pair of games as he's sat out with what the team is calling "maintenance days". It comes at a very interesting time, as Bourque has been the hot topic around the Flames since Kelly Hrudey's comments Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada. I will say Bourque likely played his best game of the season Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, and he will play tonight, so let's hope that continues.
Yesterday's theme focused on Calgary's top line which now sits at a combined -20, thanks in large part to the -10 rating of Jarome Iginla. While I usually take +/- with a large grain of salt, as I feel there are much better metrics to evaluate players, in this case it tells one main story: the top line isn't scoring. At this point, we aren't expecting much from the Iginla trio defensively, but we do expect them to produce offence. They haven't on a regular enough basis to this point, hence the not pretty -20.
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Cory Sarich-T.J. Brodie
There's a chance Brendan Morrison could return to the lineup tonight, as Head Coach Brent Sutter deemed it 50-50 he could be activated off IR. From who I've talked to, it's going to happen, as David Moss will be placed on the IR with his current lower body injury. Stajan or Kostopoulos are both candidates to come out if Morrison is back. Derek Smith is a little banged up, which is why Sarich returns this evening.
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net for the Flames.
Chicago is currently the NHL's best team with 27 points and a four game riding streak heading into action tonight, including a decisive win over Vancouver on Wednesday night. The last time the Blackhawks took on the Flames their powerplay sat 28th in the NHL; just a week later, Chicago enters tonight with the 19th ranked man advantage. That's quite the jump in just a few games, showing just how dangerous this unit is.
I chose the Hawks to win the Stanley Cup this year, mainly because I don't see very many teams that can combine a top six (or even top nine) forwards and top four defenders like Chicago can; combine that with relatively solid goaltending, and you've got a very formindable opponent. The Hawks can score, they can do it in a balanced fashion, and they will feed on any opportunity they have to exploit superior matchups. Both Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane have 21 points while Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews have put up nice numbers as well.
Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Daniel Carcillo-Patrick Kane-Patrick Sharp
Bryan Bickell-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Brunette
Ben Smith-David Bolland-Jamal Mayers
Duncan Keith-Steve Montador
Nick Leddy-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sami Lepisto-John Scott
Bolland returned to action Wednesday against Vancouver which is nothing but good news for the Blackhawks. He plays a vital role for Chicago, taking on tough defensive minutes against hard matchups while also helping to set up the Toews and Kane lines with better spots to thrive in. Bolland and Kruger have both taken a ton of key defensive zone faceoffs, and both seemingly done a pretty good job with their time so far.
Brent Seabrook won't play tonight after suffering a leg injury Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers. Corey Crawford gets the start in net.
Calgary beat Chicago on both occasions at the 'Dome last year, and another win against them would go nice currently. We're now watching the Flames play on November 18th and we've yet to see the Flames win more than two games in a row, and they've only done that on one occasion. We also have yet to see Calgary get above the .500 mark, and they have to win three straight to do that on this occasion. This one won't be easy, as that's a good Blackhawks team on the other side, and, well...yeah.